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Lack of consultation sparks union anger

Ministers' failure to communicate over teachers' pay alienates their major allies. William Stewart reports

The Government has jeopardised relations with its staunchest teaching union allies by proposing controversial changes to teachers' pay without consulting them first.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are annoyed that ministers went straight to the School Teachers' Review Body with their recommendation to cut the number of experienced teachers progressing up the performance pay scale, and to limit overall pay increases to 2.5 per cent.

The unions say they believe the issues are of a similar complexity, sensitivity and scale to those being tackled via the workload deal and should be addressed through the same partnership arrangements.

In joint evidence to the review body, they warn that any attempt to impose the pay changes unilaterally would endanger the "historic and constructive" course they had embarked upon with the Government.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of NASUWT, said the two unions were calling on the review body to recommend a continuation of the discussions that led to the workload agreement.

"Such negotiations could help resolve some of the contentious issues raised in the Department for Education and Skills' evidence and would be a concrete development of the social partnership between the teacher organisations and government," he said.

Their stance is backed by John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, who is also a staunch supporter of the workload agreement.

"The Government and the unions working on their own was the old model," he said. "We have now moved into a new era of partnership through the workforce monitoring group, and it would be sensible to build on that."

The news comes as opposition to the detail of the proposals mounts up. The National Association of Head Teachers has already threatened a boycott of the performance pay system because of the Government's plan to cut by two-thirds the number of teachers able to move on to the next stage of the upper pay scale - worth pound;1,100.

In joint evidence submitted with SHA, the NAHT has said it will be "impossible" to put the changes in place by September 2004 anyway.

The heads' associations, which are proposing a single integrated pay scale, describe the Government's "arbitrary" 30 per cent limit as a potential "industrial relations disaster".

In their joint evidence, the NASUWT and ATL restate their opposition to what they see as an artificial quota for performance pay. They also say that a pay rise of 2.5 per cent would make teachers' pay less competitive with other professions.

Evidence from the National Union of Teachers, which did not sign the agreement, says that a real-terms pay freeze until 2006 would intensify teacher recruitment problems. It also condemns the Government's plans for limiting progress up the upper pay spine as a "broken promise".

Even the most moderate of the teaching unions, the Professional Association of Teachers, has attacked the Government's proposals on performance pay as illogical and unjustifiable.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "We have a positive relationship with the NASUWT and ATL and there should have been no surprises in the evidence which the department submitted. We have made clear that we remain open to discussion before we submit fresh evidence in the next few weeks."

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